Juror Issue Leads Fla. High Court To Overturn Miami Murder Conviction
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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Citing Atticus Finch, the hero in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new trial in a 2003 murder and burglary case because of a dispute about a prospective juror.
“The case before us today addresses the very heart in which Atticus’ faith roots — the integrity of our courts, the soundness of our juries, and the men and women who ‘make [them] up.’ ” Justice R. Fred Lewis wrote in the majority opinion, quoting the character in the courtroom drama.
The case centered on jury selection during the Miami-Dade County trial of Rafael Matarranz, who was ultimately convicted of breaking into a post Miami Lakes home and strangling Lidia Giangrandi, a mother of three, in 2003.
During jury selection, a prospective juror indicated she could not be impartial, at least in part because her family had been victimized by a Christmas Day burglary when she was 8 years old. The prospective juror later said she would have an open mind, and a judge declined to remove her from consideration for what is known as “cause.” Matarranz’s attorney then had to use one of a limited number of “peremptory” challenges to keep the woman off the jury.
In a 5-2 decision Thursday, the Supreme Court said Matarranz should get a new trial.
“Although the juror in this case did not serve because defense counsel exercised a peremptory challenge to remove her from the jury, Matarranz was prejudiced because he had one less peremptory challenge to use against other objectionable jurors,” wrote Lewis, who was joined in the majority by justices Jorge Labarga, Barbara Pariente, James E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince. “Matarranz, therefore, was denied his right to a fair and impartial tribunal as guaranteed by the constitutions of this state and the United States.”
But Justice Charles Canady, joined in dissent by Chief Justice Ricky Polston, said the court should uphold a 3rd District Court of Appeal ruling that rejected Matarranz’s arguments.
“The majority substitutes its own categorical judgment concerning the credibility of a class of prospective jurors for the individualized judgment made by the trial court who presided over the (jury selection process),” Canady wrote. Matarranz, 37, has been serving a life sentence at Dade Correctional Institution.
“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”